Whenever we are travelling, there is always pressure to bring back a souvenir. And – much to the satisfaction of tourist shop owners around the world – the children have an innate ability to home in on the piece of plastic that has both the highest price and the biggest tat factor.
That’s why it was so refreshing to go to a kids’ pottery workshop in Costa Brava recently – the kids did something educational and made their own souvenirs that were not covertly shoved to the back of the cupboard immediately on return home. It was also raining so a trip to the beach was out.
The town of La Bisbal d’Emporda in Costa Brava, 19 miles to the south east of Girona, has a long tradition of producing pottery and producing vases, pots, tiles and more remains the biggest economic engine in the town.
Many people in the business learn their art at the Escola Ceràmica La Bisbal and when our group of parent bloggers arrives, the workshop is a hive of activity with many would-be ceramic students learning their trade at the many potters’ wheels. They make it look so simple – slap a fist-sized lump of clay on the wheel, start the wheel turning and, after a few minutes of moulding with wet hands, a beautifully symmetrical vase or bowl emerges.
The trick, it seems, is to have steady hands. Now the morning after a few glasses of Costa Brava red is hardly the time. A slight tremor in the hands translates to a big wobble in the lump of clay and once there’s a wobble, it’s almost impossible to recover it. This is why there is a dead pot graveyard in the middle of the workshop, the last resting place of various uneven blobs.
Strong thumbs are an essential for being a potter too. You stick your thumbs in the clay to turn a featureless blob into a beautiful vase. OK a wobbly, uneven vase.
Lola and Seth seemed to pick it up far easier than mum, perhaps something to do with the still-forming neural pathways of their brains. At least that was her excuse.
The trainee potters of La Bisbal would not have to worry too much about the competition any time soon it seemed.
Now back to the souvenir. As well as making pots and vases the Ghost way, the Escola also teaches other techniques including raku, the traditional Japanese method for making cups and pots for their tea ceremonies.
We were given a head start and were handed small vases that had already been made by students at the school. Our job was to glaze them.
This process appealed to both Seth and Lola. Seth loved the idea of mucking around with chemicals such as cobalt while Lola was able to indulge her artistic tendencies. Raku is a bit of a hit and miss affair though – the final product often bears little resemblance to the original artwork. This is because after the vase is fired in the kiln it is removed and placed in a pile of straw which quickly bursts into flames, much to the kids’ delight (and to mine if I admit my firestarter tendencies). The fire and smoke cause the glaze to crackle in interesting patterns and the final colours of the vase are very different from the colours of the chemicals used to decorate it.
The vases were then plunged into a barrel of water to cool them down and handed over, recognisable only by the names and symbols we had scratched into their bases.
The souvenirs of our amazing day as trainee potters managed to make it back home in one piece and now have pride of place at home. well, as proud as you can be of a vase in the smallest room.
We visited the Escola Ceràmica La Bisbal as guests of the Costa Brava and Catalan tourist boards.